Read at beginning of service:
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV)
7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(Read text: Philippians 4:10-23)
A Russian woman lived with her husband & two children in a very small hut. Her husband?s parents lost their home & she had to take them in. Unbearable. In desperation, she went to the village wise man, whom she knew had solved many, many problems. “What should I do?” she begged. “Do you have a COW?” asked the wise man. “Yes,” she replied. “Then bring her into the hut too. And come back and see me in a week,” said the wise man. A week later she was back. “This is utterly unbearable!” she said. “Do you have any CHICKENS?” asked the wise man. “Yes,” she replied. “What about them?” Bring them into the hut too, and come back and see me in another week.” “Now you?re really out of your mind,” she said. Nevertheless, still awed by his reputation, she did as he asked. A week later she returned. “This is absolutely impossible!” she said. “Our home is a mess.” “All right,” said the wise man, “take out the chickens.” The next week she reported that without the chickens it was definitely better, but still a miserable situation. “All right,” said the wise man, “now take out the cow. That will settle your problem.” And it did. Without the chickens and cow the woman, her husband, the children, and his two parents got along quite peacefully. (quoted in the message “Learning Contentment” by Roddy Chestnut)
Sometimes we don?t know how well off we really are until we know how worse it can get! Today I?m going to speak on something that Paul wrote that I believe is a major key to knowing the peace of God in your life. Sadly enough this attitude that Paul talks about is one that seems incredibly elusive to the average person in our part of the world. Even among Christians. Paul talks about contentment. And isn?t it ironic that though we live in one of the most prosperous nations on the face of the earth in the history of the world this attitude is still one that people struggle with.
The main emotion of the adult American who has had all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture is disappointment. (John Cheever, from Leadership Journal)
Contentment is all about being satisfied. The word content means to “be enough”, “to suffice” and has to do with being at peace or okay with what is available.
Are you a contented person? Now be honest, are you satisfied with yourself & with your life? Are you content with your job? Do you look forward to going to work? Do you love the people you work with?
How about your marriage? Are you happy? Do you & your spouse get along well all of the time, part of the time, or just some of the time? Maybe you?re single & you think, “If only I were married, then I would be happy.” Maybe you?re married & you think, “If only I were single again.”
What about your body? When you get up in the morning & look in the mirror do you say, “Oh God, I am fearfully & wonderfully made. Thank you, Lord.” Or do you look in the mirror & say, “Now there?s a scary sight, help me Lord!”
Are you happy with your income? Do you feel like you?re paid what you?re worth? The average income of a major league baseball player is over a million dollars a year. Of course, some baseball stars are making many millions a year. But most ballplayers are “struggling” along, making only $300,000 to $400,000 a year. Are you satisfied with your salary?
The Apostle Paul wrote while he was in a Roman prison these words,
Philippians 4:12 (NIV)
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
“I have learned the secret of being content,” it seems to me that Paul deserves a hearing. He?s getting old. He doesn?t have any money where he once was rich. His health is beginning to decline ? he once was strong. He?s in prison ? he once was free. Yet he says, “I have learned the secret of begin content”.
Now I don?t know if you?ve noticed or not but when somebody mentions the phrase, “I?ve got a secret” people tend to listen a little more closely! In this case, Paul?s secret is certainly worth listening closely to. You see Paul clearly recognized the importance of contentment. As he went to write this letter he was in prison awaiting either release or execution. The church at Philippi, which he helped found, was entering into a time of persecution. Paul wrote this letter as an encouragement to them to bear up under the trials they were about to face and keep an attitude of joy. He continually pointed them to his own life as an example of how to rejoice in the midst of pressure and uncertainty. Paul had learned what it meant to be content no matter what and wanted to teach the Philippians how to cultivate the same mindset.
Before I go into what Paul writes about the secret of being content in any and every situation I think its important I talk about the enemies of contentment ? I?ll call them the dissatisfactors.
ENEMIES OF CONTENTMENT
Dissatisfactor #1: Unrealistic Expectations
Some of you have parents who grew up during the depression & had very little. And when they married & had children, they didn?t want them to be as deprived as they were. So they worked hard to get what they had.
But today we look around and find people of younger generations including mine getting married and wanting everything that took their parents and grandparents years to accumulate, immediately! The level of expectations has changed & many people today just expect to be able to live the lifestyle they want immediately.
Sometimes people get married and then discover their spouse is not perfect. They go to work and discover that their boss is not ideal. Then there are times when the discovery is made that your friends measure up short.
Then there are people who become Christians, thinking that Christians have it all together and that becoming a Christian will make them perfect too. But they find out that that?s not the case. They?re still attacked by temptations and Christians do make mistakes and mess up from time to time. So there is a disappointment and lack of contentment simply because of unrealistic expectations.
Unrealistic Expectations can affect a lot of different areas in life ? whether it?s your expectations of others, yourself, things you own, organizations, vacations, your job etc. Now I?m not saying that it isn?t good to have expectations, or dreams, or goals. What I am saying is that when they are unrealistic you are set up for disappointment and discontent.
Dissatisfactor #2: Unnoticed Blessings
We live in one of the most affluent nations in the world. We have more possessions, more freedoms, more opportunities than almost anyone else. And yet, overall, we?re among the most unhappy people on the face of the earth and our suicide rate is extremely high.
Think about some of the things we have or that we want are they necessities or luxuries? A car? Television? One or more than one? VCR? Stereo? What about that super deluxe weed whacker garden trimmer? Or the quiet, efficient, ultra powerful dishwasher? We want all those things.
And yet Paul writes about himself and the early Christians in 1 Timothy 6:8
1 Timothy 6:8 (NIV)
8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
Today we have a whole lot more than just food and clothing and many are still not content because they forget their many blessings.
Dissatisfactor #3: Uncontrolled Ambition and Unfulfilled Purpose
Now the Bible does not condemn ambition. It encourages us to be ambitious and to strive for excellence in the sight of God. And there is the key. You see when ambition is uncontrolled, or when it simply fuels our own ego, it becomes evil. James writes,
James 3:16 (NIV)
16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
Time magazine reported that a mugger held up a woman at gunpoint and demanded her money. But when she only had $12.50 in her purse he became very angry. Then he saw her checkbook and insisted that she write him a check for $300. The next day they arrested him when he tried to cash that check. (quoted in “Are You Content” by Melvin Newland)
Seems like a stupid thing to do doesn?t it? And yet, uncontrolled ambition can sometimes dull our thinking to the point we aren?t even sane. Uncontrolled or selfish ambition becomes the enemy of contentment.
In Luke 12, Jesus tells about the rich farmer who had a bountiful harvest, more than ever before. But instead of thinking about others, he said, “I?ll build bigger barns. And I?ll say to myself. “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
Hebrews 13:5 says,
Hebrews 13:5 (NIV)
5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have?
The Bible is clear that we are to be content with what we have. We are to be ambitious, but ambitious for the right things ? the things of God ? not the things of man. God has made us for a purpose and gifted us with talents and abilities to accomplish that purpose. When that purpose goes unfulfilled or your talents/abilities are misdirected through selfish uncontrolled ambition then discontent rules
Dissatisfactor #4: Unconfessed Sin
Ultimately the biggest enemy of contentment is sin. Now I?m sure if we thought about it, each one of us could come up with a big list of things that we might classify as sin. However, I think that if left to ourselves some of us may have different lists. There may be things that one person considers a sin that another person doesn?t. Or at the very least many of our lists would have varying degrees of sin. You know, things that we think are worse than other.
A lot of the differences will be a result of different backgrounds, values/beliefs, and experiences in life. I think one common thing among all those lists however, would be the general impression that sin is something bad, and something undesirable. Ultimately, however, God has the final say in what sin is. The biblical definition of sin in my understanding is anything that is an affront to the character and work of God and contrary to the creator?s intended purpose for mankind. The truth is, unconfessed sin is the leading cause of discontentment in our world today because sin chains people.
Oh sure, there?s a lot of sin that gives pleasure ? but the pleasure is short-lived and paves the way for discontentment. Here?s the thing. If you actually sat down and came up with a list of things you would classify as sin there most likely will be some things that fit the biblical definition of sin that some people won?t include in their lists because it?s a practice in their own life. I can pretty much guarantee you that those unconfessed sins are a source of great discontentment.
Proverbs 14:12-13 (NIV)
12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. 13 Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.
SUMMARY: unrealistic expectations, unnoticed blessings, uncontrolled ambition, unconfessed sin.
Now let?s look at Paul?s secret of being content in any and all situations. His first lesson,
SECRETS OF CONTENTMENT
Satisfactor #1: Affirm Christ as the Centre of your life.
The verse I?m about to read is one of the most quoted in the entire Bible. Sadly, it?s often taken out of context and people come to think of it like Popeye?s trusty can of spinach.
Read verse 13
Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
If you read verse 13 without verse 12 and all that comes before it you might look at Jesus like a super vitamin! You might think that you can go out and run a marathon without training just because you?re a Christian. Hey, go try it. I dare you. Taken by itself, you might conclude that you could perform surgery or pilot a plane or run for prime-minister successfully because God will empower you to do it. You?d be wrong. That?s not what these verses taken together are telling us.
Paul?s point is that no matter what circumstances he faces, God?s power is available to help him be content in them. There?s no can of spinach to help you beat up Brutus here. Yes, God does empower us in miraculous ways sometimes, but don?t use this verse as a proof text to go out and do superhuman feats!
What God gives us is maybe even more miraculous than lifting a car over our heads. He gives us the ability, the strength, the power to be content no matter what situation we face. We are only able to do this as we affirm Christ as the centre of our lives.
When you read certain sections of Paul?s letter to the Philippians you can?t help but notice the value he place?s on having an intimate knowledge of and relationship with Jesus Christ.
Philippians 3:8-9 (NIV)
8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
Paul initiated this relationship by Recognizing the depravity of sin and the sufficiency of Christ to take care of it
In another letter that Paul had wrote he described his awareness of the work of sin in his own life,
Romans 7:15-25 (NIV)
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
There is only one solution to the problem of sin in our lives and that is the work and person of Jesus Christ. When you confess your sin and believe in Jesus Christ as the one who died and rose to life again you open the door to His grace, and mercy, and forgiveness in your life. Paul says in the next chapter,
Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
Not only is sin dealt with but you are free to experience this life-giving relationship with God.
Jesus said to his disciples,
John 10:10 (NIV)
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
The more you die to yourself and live to Christ ? the greater your contentment will be. Paul considered the most important pursuit of his life to be his relationship with Jesus and making Him the centre of your life.
Satisfactor #2: Cherish the blessings in your life.
Philippians 4:10-11 (NIV)
10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
When Paul initially began his missionary expeditions, churches like the one at Philippi enthusiastically supported him. They sent him money, supplies, and whatever help he needed. By this time in his life, lots of that initial enthusiasm died down and the resources dried up. Some estimate that it had been as long as ten years since the Philippian church had helped Paul in any way. Now suddenly they send Epaphroditus to help Paul out, but Epaphroditus gets sick and almost dies. He becomes more of a burden to Paul than a source of strength.
Despite all these let downs, notice Paul?s attitude toward the Philippian believers. Not once does he lay a guilt trip on them. Not once does he moan about how they dropped the ball in the past. Never does he criticize them for the feeble helper they sent. No instead, he thanks them. “I?m so happy that you thought about me.” He recognized that for all those years of silence the Philippian church simply had no opportunity to help him. They just weren?t able.
Paul focused on the things he had and the love and care behind them. He cherished it all and it reinforced his joy and sense of contentment.
How opposite his attitude is from the typical response of some folks when they perceive that the church has let them down. There have been times as a pastor where I have seen people focus on what they?re failing to receive rather than being grateful for what they have. I have heard when people have complained about how much they feel as though the church has forgotten them and doesn?t care but then I know that isn?t true. There were so many things that were being done for them in their lives, that were demonstrations of the care that is present, yet that didn?t matter because they were focused on what they didn?t have. (unnoticed blessings)
Contentment only comes when you take stock of what you do have ? the people and the things in your life ? and cherish them or are grateful for them. You can only do that when you?re willing to think the best about people and their motivations.
If you consistently focus on what you don?t have and all the failed expectations in your life, contentment and joy will be an impossibility for you. We are flawed, sinful human beings. We will drop the ball and actively hurt one another from time to time. When you?re on the receiving end of the hurt, failure or disappointment the question is “What are you going to do with it?”
Paul was able to get past it because he “learned” the secret of contentment. It wasn?t a natural ability but one he had been taught. He intentionally responded by looking at the positive, trusting people, forgiving their failures and cherishing the blessings in his life.
Satisfactor #3: Nullify selfish pursuits
In this next section of his letter to the Philippians I want you to notice how concerned Paul is with their well-being. If you pay close attention you?ll notice he shares with them another secret of contentment.
Philippians 2:1-4 (NIV)
1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
I want you to consider this statement?every blessing we have in our lives is a channel through which we can bless someone else. The only way this truth can take root however is when we learn to nullify our own selfish pursuits and in humility look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others. Yes, it?s important to cherish and be grateful for the many blessings we have in life ? but we must be careful that we don?t become possessive of those things. Contentment comes not only through being grateful for what you have but also through passing it on. This is where the importance of Christ as the centre of your life is so crucial ? because this cannot be done without the power of God to enable us to do it.
Paul learned to be content by nullifying his selfish desires and pursuits. He intentionally chose to focus on what God was doing through him and other people.
Think deeply and honestly for a moment about the direction of your life. What?s the focal point of your thoughts? What are the major pursuits that take up your time? What do you spend your money, time and talents on? Contentment and joy are only possible when you surrender it all to God?s plan.
This poem by a confederate soldier, written more than a hundred years ago says it all:
I asked for health that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity that I might do better things?
I asked for riches that I might be happy,
I was given poverty that I might be wise?
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God?
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life,
I was given life that I might enjoy all things?
I got nothing that I asked for but everything that I hoped for.
Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.
(quoted in “Contentment 101” by Joel Smith)
SUMMARY: dissatisfactors – unrealistic expectations, unnoticed blessings, uncontrolled ambition & unfulfilled purpose, unconfessed sin.
Satisfactors ? Affirm Christ as the centre of your life. Cherish what you?ve been given. Nullify selfish pursuits.